Nelson Academy students in SH get new traffic signal at 20th St./Cherry Ave.; other street improvements planned

Sean Belk/Signal Tribune Students of Jessie Elwin Nelson Academy will be able to use a new fully signalized crosswalk to get across Cherry Avenue at 20th Street when they return from summer break on Sept. 4. The project was funded through a federal grant in addition to money from Signal Hill and the Long Beach Unified School District.

Sean Belk/Signal Tribune Students of Jessie Elwin Nelson Academy will be able to use a new fully signalized crosswalk to get across Cherry Avenue at 20th Street when they return from summer break on Sept. 4. The project was funded through a federal grant in addition to money from Signal Hill and the Long Beach Unified School District.


Sean Belk
Staff Writer

Students who cross Cherry Avenue on their way to and from school in Signal Hill will have a safer passage when they return from summer break next month, thanks to a partnership between the City and the school district.
A new traffic signal and crosswalk at 20th Street and Cherry Avenue in front of Jessie Elwin Nelson Academy middle school is now in place to alleviate the potential dangers for students crossing Cherry Avenue, a busy thoroughfare that often becomes congested with vehicles in the afternoon hours.
Signal Hill city officials and the Long Beach Unified School District worked together on funding the $322,000 traffic-signal project to create a fully signalized intersection.
A majority of the funding, about 90 percent, came from a federal Highway Safety Improvement Program grant. In addition, the school district paid about $15,000 toward the new city infrastructure, according to school officials. The City allocated about $20,000 toward the project, according to a Signal Hill capital-improvement-project list.
Southern California Edison is expected to power the signal poles as early as next week, said Steve Myrter, director of Signal Hill Public Works, in a phone interview. He said the non-signalized crosswalk at Cherry Avenue and 19th Street will be removed, and students and other pedestrians are encouraged to use only the new signalized crosswalk to get across that section of the street.
LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou said there are no known reports that Cherry Avenue is especially unsafe for children but the new traffic signal provides an added layer of safety. “We haven’t heard concerns expressed about safety at the intersection, but the project provides an extra measure of precaution,” he said.
Myrter said the project was completed just in time for students returning from summer break. For Nelson Academy, which has a yearly enrollment of about 850 students in grades six through eight, school starts on Sept. 4.
The new traffic signal, however, isn’t the only change coming to Cherry Avenue.

Cherry Avenue widening
After several years of delays, the long-awaited second leg of construction on the Cherry Avenue Widening Project is expected to begin this year. The more than $6.7-million project involves easing traffic congestion along a section of Cherry Avenue between 20th Street and Pacific Coast Highway.
Cherry Avenue is classified as a “major thoroughfare” that provides direct access to the I-405 Freeway, seaports and airports. The street is also Signal Hill’s main commercial corridor, with the Signal Hill Auto Center and three surrounding retail shopping centers located there.
For years, however, the street has created a “bottleneck” for drivers during peak rush-hour traffic. In the 1980s, Signal Hill widened portions of the street within its city limits from Spring Street to 19th Street. However, the rest of the street (from 19th Street to PCH), which resides in Long Beach, was left untouched.
Since then, traffic has continued to back up all the way up the street, sending some drivers to cut through the nearby neighborhoods to avoid traffic and find a quicker route.
The City of Signal Hill has been able to allocate traffic-impact funds and received state and federal grants for the upgrades.
Still, the project encountered several delays, mainly due to state-budget problems. While Long Beach was forced to withdraw $1 million from the project, the State has since reinstated its original $2.7-million grant.
The new street-widening project calls for two new traffic lanes, one going northbound and one going southbound. Plans also call for adding a new right-turn lane on southbound Cherry Avenue at PCH and a new travel lane that would extend approximately 300 feet beyond the PCH intersection to provide through traffic with an opportunity to merge once past the intersection.
The addition of these new traffic lanes required the City to purchase new public right-of-way space, which was completed last summer.
Myrter said in a phone conversation on Tuesday, Aug. 13 that the City Council is expected to vote on awarding a contract for the project in September after bids went out in February. Once Caltrans provides authorization, construction may start in late fall, he said.

Capital improvements

In total, Signal Hill has nearly $19 million allocated for capital-improvement projects in 2013 and 2014, including $7 million in street projects, $320,000 in park projects (including a $50,000 community garden), $70,000 for a new electronic sign for the Civic Center and $7 million in redevelopment-bond funds for a new library.
In terms of street projects, Signal Hill is planning to install Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements to the intersection at Temple Avenue and 28th Street through a federal grant. The City is also planning sidewalk improvements, including new asphalt, along Walnut Avenue, Hill Street, 23rd Street and 28th Street. ß

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